If you’re new to my monthly Film Noir Releases posts, welcome! My goal is to cover all the first-time releases to Blu-ray and DVD, usually passing over reissues unless there’s a good reason to include them. (I also tend to leave out more recent films from the last several years.) Unless otherwise noted, the following are all North American Region A Blu-ray discs. I often use the terms “film noir” and “neo-noir” rather loosely, so while you may quibble with some of my choices, I hope these are films you’ll at least consider. As always, if you know of any film noir or neo-noir films I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading.
If you’re not already planning on it, July might be a great month to go on vacation. July might prove to be the slimmest month for new film noir Blu-ray releases since I’ve been covering them. Still, I’ve found a few things that might be worth your time. Let’s take a look…
El Aura (2005)
Written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky
Produced by Ariel Saúl, Victor Hadida, Cecilia Bossi
Music by Dario Eskenazi
Cinematography by Checco Varese
Edited by Alejandro Carrillo Penovi, Fernando Pardo
IFC DVD (2:18)
One of the things I appreciate most about film festivals and shows like TCM’s Noir Alley is the presenter’s ability to convey how film noir developed organically from events happening in the culture at the time those films were made. Those who excel at such presentations help audiences understand how post-WWII fears and anxieties greatly contributed to a sense of cynicism in films produced in the 1940s and 50s. Add to that the variations of what we once accepted as well-defined male and female roles in our society, the threat of communism, the problems of veterans returning home to a different world, and much more. Without these presenters as guides, it’s often difficult to navigate our own history while trying to understand the stories behind the stories, much less the experiences of filmmakers working in other countries. I explored some of this with El ángel desnudo (1946), the first movie discussed in the book Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir by David George and Gizella Meneses. Today, I’ll look at El Aura, a more recent Argentine noir which draws heavily from its cultural background.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (2000) edited by John Belton
Cambridge Film Handbooks, Cambridge University Press
trade paperback, 177 pages
(includes Alfred Hitchcock’s motion picture filmography, reviews of Rear Window, select bibliography, and an index)
Each volume of the Cambridge Film Handbooks series focuses on a single title*, including essays by film scholars and critics. Although I’d never previously read any of the other titles in this particular series, I’ve read similar books from various publishers. Such volumes are usually a mixed bag containing valuable information as well as an assortment of minutia, overflowing accolades for the director, and plenty of academic gasbaggery. Thankfully, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, edited by John Belton (Professor of English at Rutgers University) is an above-average collection of essays from people who know their stuff and can skillfully communicate it.
I’ve got a bit of news to those who’ve been following Journeys in Darkness and Light for nearly four years. First of all, thank you for reading and for joining me on this journey. If this sounds like I’m saying goodbye, I’m not. I’m simply moving to a new platform: my own website.
First Reformed (2017*)
Written and directed by Paul Schrader
Produced by Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Victoria Hill, Gary Hamilton, Deepak Sikka, Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray
Music by Brian Williams (Lustmord)
Cinematography by Alexander Dynan
Edited by Benjamin Rodriguez Jr.
Distributed by A24
Bow Tie Cinemas Harbour 9, Annapolis, MD (1:53)
*released on the festival circuit in 2017; in wide release May 2018
Paul Schrader’s First Reformed opens with a long shot of a modest church, one we sense has been painted white for generation after generation, a building flanked by patches of snow amidst a darkened earthy landscape. The camera lingers a few moments as each shot draws us nearer to the church’s doors while Brian Williams’s unobtrusive score carries the weight of looming tension. If we didn’t know better, we might think we’re being prepared for a horror movie. Perhaps we are.
Noir – Christopher Moore
Hardcover (library), 339 pages
Okay, so maybe I’m breaking the rules here. Christopher Moore’s latest novel Noir isn’t about classic movies, but it’s set in a universe that classic movie lovers (especially those with an inclination for film noir and/or hardboiled fiction) will know and love. Consider the opening line from the first chapter:
“She had the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes – – a size-eight dame in a size-six dress and every mug in the joint was rooting for the two sizes to make a break for it…”
There’s something about watching the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night that dispels anxiety, negativity, or just plain bad moods. In this the third year of our Great Movies series at the Severna Park Library, I don’t know when I’ve seen a more relaxed group, folks that were clearly enjoying themselves in this wonderful time capsule.
Peter Cushing: An Autobiography
Weidenfeld and Nicholson
trade paperback, 157 pages
It’s not uncommon for people coming into the library where I work to get a little confused about biographies and autobiographies. We often get requests such as “that autobiography of Alexander Hamilton that he made into a musical,” (multiple problems there) or “Leonardo da Vinci’s new autobiography by Walter Isaacson” (problems here, too). With grace and gentility, we point out that autobiographies are written by the subject themselves and biographies are penned by other people who (hopefully) did careful research and study. Memoirs (which seem to be everywhere these days) are like autobiographies, but usually focused on a specific portion of the writer’s life. Peter Cushing: An Autobiography is truly an autobiography, yet it ends well before the end of the actor’s career. At only 157 pages, the work is quite short, stopping at the death of Cushing’s wife Helen in 1971. Although he worked for 15 more years and lived until 1994, Cushing chose not to reveal anything further about himself in this volume. (A second volume, Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years was published in 1988.)
Walk East on Beacon! (1952)
Directed by Alfred L. Werker
Produced by Louis de Rochemont
Screenplay by Laurence Heath and Emmett Murphy
Based on a Reader’s Digest article by J. Edgar Hoover
Music by Louis Applebaum
Edited by Angelo Ross
Cinematography by Joseph C. Brun
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV DVD (1:38)
The House on 92nd Street (1945) was the first of the semi-documentary crime pictures that made audiences feel they were right there on the cutting edge of law enforcement’s efforts in tracking down and capturing the bad guys. Produced by Louis de Rochemont and directed by Henry Hathaway,The House on 92nd Street was based on a real case and was shot (as much as possible) on actual locations. Other such films followed a similar template. In the case of The House on 92nd Street, it was the FBI hunting down Nazi spies; with Walk East on Beacon!, it was Communist spies. (Hereafter, I’m losing the exclamation point from the title. It’s just too difficult to sustain that much excitement about an instruction in walking…)
I’m really enjoying talking with my friend Audy Christianos on the Film Don’t Lie podcast and hope that you’ll give us a listen if you haven’t already. Audy asked me a few months back if I’d join him on an exploration of several of the Friday Night Double Features on the Criterion channel of FilmStruck. In our most recent episode (#39), we discuss Louis Malle’s first film, Elevator to the Gallows (1958) and Koreyoshi Kurahara’s Black Sun (1964), which FilmStruck calls a “manic, oddball, anti-buddy picture.” You don’t even have to wait for a Friday night to roll around; watch these films now, listen to our podcast, and let us know what you think.